Over the last 5 to 10 years, wireless environments in higher education have become some of the most complex settings to support a reliable, secure and easy to manage wireless network.
The challenges are extensive and even though wireless represents only a fraction of the daily responsibilities for campus IT Managers there's no getting around that your campus Wi-Fi network has to perform.
Troubleshooting Wi-Fi performance problems is hard enough even in small environments, let alone across an entire college or university campus.
If you're having issues with your campus's Wi-Fi performance here are 5 reasons why you're struggling.
It's more common than you'd think but we’ve seen some colleges try and go as long as seven years before updating their WLAN and this is just too long in today's world.
Everything you do on your campus is tied to your wireless network design. Anytime you want to add new devices or expand your BYOD initiatives you'll want to test your design to make sure your current infrastructure can support what you're trying to do.
Your wireless network design or RF design is the most critical component when it comes to your college or university's wifi performance.
In the last 10 years we've gone from the first smartphone (iPhone) to literally almost everything being "smart" or connected to our Wi-Fi networks.
With this shift the infrastructure on both the wired and wireless sides of the spectrum have also gone through a dramatic evolution as well.
802.11ax (WiFi 6) is the latest standard and we're now into the realm of gigabit switching, SDN, NAC and security standards like next-gen firewalls.
The reality is that if you want to get the most out of each "wave of technology" you have ensure your infrastructure is up to date as well.
Check things like your cabling, switches, access points, your pipe (bandwidth), your core, firewalls, software etc.
This doesn't mean updating everything every time a new iPhone comes out (12-18 month cycle) but it does mean having a pulse on where your current network's capabilities are and planning accordingly when trying to add/support new devices or applications.
Keep in mind as we mentioned above, that even with the latest infrastructure components in place, without an updated WLAN design you'll never see the performance results you were expecting.
Increasing Numbers of Mobile and Connected Devices (BYOD the IoT)
This is probably one of the biggest areas of concern when it comes to properly supporting reliable wifi performance on campus.
There are just so many devices to handle and support and so few IT staff to do it effectively. The average college student today owns seven devices according to MarketingCharts.com and with wireless being a shared medium, the more devices accessing the network the less performance there is to go around.
Lack of Proper Wi-Fi Management Tools (Visibility and Control)
Everywhere on campus has become a computer lab these days except the school doesn't own the computers anymore.
Another factor that's affecting your campus wifi network's performance is the wide variety of types and brands of devices. You don't just have desktops, you have laptops, smartphones, wearables, tablets, cameras, printers, HVAC units, even vending machines are connected.
There's also the ever-growing ecosystem of applications, both for recreational and business use and not every application plays fairly. Video streaming apps (YouTube) and various social apps like Facebook and SnapChat can eat up a lot of your bandwidth creating issues with mission-critical tasks like on-line testing.
Without the proper management and network access solutions in place your campus network will be unreliable, unsafe and a very frustrating place to be for everyone involved.
For many schools affording the large-scale wireless networks they require can be difficult to get approved for by college and university CFOs. Especially when you know you should be updating your entire wireless platform every 3-4 years.
This is a pretty straightforward problem that absolutely impacts your ability to deliver a reliable wireless experience to your students, faculty members and guests.
It's not an easy challenge to overcome, but you do have options. Check out this recent podcast with SecurEdge Networks CEO, Philip Wegner as he goes into detail about how you can purchase and budget for Wi-Fi in higher education.
Wi-Fi Performance Starts with Having a Plan
You can't expect to just magically fix any problem by guessing or cutting corners. To realize the results you're trying to achieve you have to have the right plan in place.
A great place to start is by understanding how the Wi-Fi engineering process actually works, from there you'll be able to plan your next steps to better wifi performance.